On hacks

What is a hack? A hack is a word with multiple meanings. Which meaning of hack do you assign to yourself? Another question is, why would you call yourself a name like a hack? A useful hack is a behavior choice designed to make you more productive in a chosen activity.

An example that I use is that I use Bluetooth headphones to stream music in the morning. This allows me to place my phone in a different location from where I am working. That way, I don’t check my phone, and I work without interruptions. This is a hack.

Or a hack can be an illegal activity that you engage in to increase your financial position.
An example of this is writing code to program a computer to steal money from a bank or alter your report card. In the case of the 1980’s movie War Games, come close to starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

In the workplace, I have heard the definition of a hack. As someone who takes a job simply for the money and alters their work without any concerns for skill or expertise, just gets the job done.

I think for me, it is important; I am not going to be a hack. I will also use the good hacks, Hacks that benefit other, and make the world better. I hope to, at least. That is the intention I will set, and hopefully, if I screw up, wisdom will guide me back in the right direction. The truth is I will screw up, I have screwed up, and in the future, I hope to screw up less. Perhaps my screwups make me a hack. In that case, it is a name that other people have given to me, but it isn’t a name I have to accept.

In closing, a hack represents forward progress, a person who uses ax hacks away at wood to be used in the fireplace. An artist hacks away each day typing words, playing notes, painting images, taking photos in the service of making things better for others.

So I will hack away. But I am not a hack, and neither are you.

Thoughts ?

Have you ever counted the number of thoughts you are having? Or even attempted to count your thoughts? I tried this morning and counted three, then I gave up. I took some time to notice the content of what was going through my head.

Each image that came into my mind and then back out would produce a spark of energy that would course through my body. Some of the energy was positive, another energy was negative. I concluded that negative energy acts as fuel, but I don’t want to be fueled by negative energy.

I will say this, that negative energy that I generate gets me moving; it is fuel. I am productive, accomplishing the goals and tasks that I set out each day. Still, negative energy is attached to outcomes, driving me towards a desirable outcome.

For example, if you are running from a bear or Frankenstein’s monster, you are trying to outrun the monster and the bear. I may succeed, or you may succeed, but both of us will be tired. Being tired in the hope of living and not being attacked by a bear is a good thing. If the bear get’s you, that is a bad thing. If the monster catches up to you it is a bad thing. The expectation and the story I am telling is that an interaction with a bear or a monster isn’t going to end well for me , and the odds of it being a positive interaction aren’t high.

The reality is a bear isn’t chasing me. I am sitting at my computer at 6:55am, working on my daily blog post.

I don’t need the fear of being caught by a Bear to motivate me to write. Nothing bad is going to happen if I fail to post to my blog today.

I do have an exam that I am studying for this week. I do need to have a sense of urgency when I am studying.

The issue is, I don’t want to be fueled by the thoughts of a bear chasing me, or the fear of failure, or the shame of being made fun of, when you have spent the majority of your life using fear as your fuel, is it possible to switch to a new fuel?

On new and measurement.

I have to be intentional to expose myself to new music. I look at my playlists on Spotify. Most of the music I listen to ranges over seventy years. This music can be called up with a screen’s tap, a simple search, and a few clicks.

Our parents had to accumulate albums or listen to what was on the radio or tv. Our ancestors had to rely on whoever played an instrument in the local town. The wealthy would hear the symphony orchestra perform. The poor would hear individuals perform around campfires, in pubs, homes, etc.
In fourth grade, I had the opportunity to play music in school. I continued to practice and play, and even today, I pull out my saxophone and practice.

I can only speak to my own experience; there is a joy to playing music with others. There also was a part of my nature that is competitive. That side was fed growing up too. In-band, you competed for chairs, you went to contests to compete against other bands for rankings and certificates.
You went to the contest. You got a one. This meant you were a good band. If you didn’t get one, in my mind, you were not good.

This system of measurement. They exist. Measurement makes me uncomfortable. Measurement makes me want to quit, or measurement acts as fuel. There are times that I want systems of measurement to go away.

What is your opinion on the measurement of individual talents and abilities? Is the measurement around to help me get better in my chosen vocation? Or am I using measurement to validate myself or gain acceptance from others? I guess it is a combination of all of the above.

Bouncing from the opinions that I have curated in my mind has led me to conclude that I need to cultivate new habits and expose myself to new music. Still, as a content creator, I am concluding that perhaps I am new. I want to be the new author that a reader chooses. I hope to be that new podcaster that you listen to or the new blogger that you read, and if you would like to expose yourself to something new, check out my work here.

Customer Service Who is it for?

Is Customer Service for the customer or for the business?  After an experience this weekend I am becoming more convinced that the people who tell me they are for me aren’t for me. One of us has to be wrong.

The remote control for our cable receiver broke, so I went to order a new one. I signed onto the website and quickly discovered that I couldn’t order a remote with the click of a button. Instead, I had to go through a long process. I got the remote but left the call more frustrated than satisfied. I thought that ordering a new remote would be easy, I would go to the website of the cable company, and I could click a button and order a new remote. Nope not at all. There wasn’t a web page, There wasn’t a cart. Zip. I can order a burrito from Chipotle, A latte from Starbucks, but a remote for my cable receiver nope not available for me.

Here is what I had to do. I had to use the search function and type in the word  remote. I found out that I could either go to the nearest store that was closed or call, but a message told me that it would be better for me to do a text chat due to a high volume of calls.

So I started a text chat. Before I got to a human, it asked me the same questions that I had already been asked, and I got similar responses, Go to the store or call and order a new one.

It has been about fifteen minutes. I remember my old cable company; when my remote broke, I went online, clicked a button, and a new remote showed up. Why are they putting me through all of this? Why can’t they just have a webpage with remotes? Tween are selling plushies online and making millions, I can buy a plushy toy from an 8 year old web entrepreneur faster than this.

So I got a human, or maybe it was a human, who knows. I could be chatting with a sophisticated bot or a human. The bot or human looked up my address and replied, “ok, we need the security code from your cable bill. ”

I now have to sign onto my computer, login into my account, and there isn’t a security code on the front page. I asked again, and she says if you can’t find it, we can verify another way.

What I do next is I look up my billing statement and download a pdf of the bill. There on the pdf is my security code. I read it off, and then we can finally ship the remote.
Now two questions, one I asked and one I didn’t. Why didn’t the customer service representative tell me that I would need to download my billing statement or a security code? Why isn’t the security code on the front page of your online billing statement? Did you convince me to stop getting paper statements? You told me to sign up for online billing. So I did.

I don’t think that it is an unrealistic expectation that you could update your customer service policies to note that if you want to use a security code, you should place it on the front page of the site or at least tell the customers how to locate it.

The next question I asked was, why do I need to go through all of this to replace a remote? We don’t charge you for the remote, so we have to do it this way. That didn’t make any sense to me at all. If I want to order a new subscription channel or a pay-per-view movie, I just need to click a button from my couch; there aren’t any security codes or third-party verification. So when I am giving you money, security doesn’t matter, because the company is getting my money. Still, when you have to give away something for free, a new remote, you are going to make me work for it. I spent about an hour going through all of this, so at the minimum wage rate in California, I guess I had to work off the cost of the remote?

So again, when a company says to me, we are for the customer. We care about the customer experience; it’s a lie. I am. The customer and I did not enjoy that experience. I guess I guess I shouldn’t complain, right? I got the remote, my tv works, I can change channels using the app on my phone, and the internet in my home is reliable. Does it really matter? Is a remote control important? I don’t know. What I do know is that it was a frustrating experience. But I guess I can file it away in the first-world problems drawer.

Morning Rituals

My morning routine has been pretty consistent for decades. Spiritual reading and journaling, which for me is the Bible was present first. Over the years, exercise has floated in and out. Walking outdoors is very consistent, and going to the ocean at least once a week is something I do.

Meditation is a ritual I added a few years ago, and it has been the most beneficial by far. Meditating in the morning slows my mind down. Slow is different from quiet. My mind is not quiet; my mind is fast. Thoughts race in and race out, and my emotions, in turn, get activated, and I can be ready to fight or preach a sermon by 7am.

Meditation helps with that. I take time to breathe each morning using a guided meditation app. I started with five minutes and have moved to ten. Twenty minutes is a bit much for me.
Along with adding to my morning ritual, I discovered that I need to subtract from my morning routine.

Checking my email, reading newsletters, and reading the newspaper. I started doing that in moderation. Bringing myself online slowly. By bringing myself online slower, I can avoid having the races begin in my mind.

Also, I had to do an inventory of what I am consuming. I found that some newsletters were toxic to my mind and unnecessary to read. One of the newsletters I subscribed to was in my field; I endured reading it because I told myself it is important to read, it wasn’t. I had to use discernment to come to that conclusion. We have to read things that we don’t like, like forms from the IRS. I don’t like them, but I have to read them, and if I choose not to, there are real-world literal consequences.

A newsletter didn’t have real-world literal consequences, and that is the guide that I used. Emotional consequences or real-world consequences. I had to go with the real-world consequences.

Having a clear head and a clear mind why I do my morning ritual and routine. I look for real-world consequences that are my measuring stick.

Thinking about work.

The minute I start a project, I want to be able to finish it. Done, completed, move on to something else. Sometimes I enjoy the work, most times enjoying the work is difficult, other times the work is ignored or put off to the last possible moment.

Enjoying the work is challenging; doing the work occupies most of my day, but done? What does done produce?

Done could mean many things. A finished movie get’s played to audiences. A finished book gets read by readers. The finished art is displayed at galleries, clothes are worn, food is consumed, and the list goes on.

What about work? We enjoy watching people work as well. We watch athletes work when we focus our eyes on The NBA, NFL, or MLB.

The coaches, the players that are at a game this is their 9 to 5. A musician performing live, The actor doing live theater, the bartender serving you, the server at the restaurant, the teacher, all of them are working while we are consuming. We go back and forth, between working ourselves consuming others’ work, in the service of what?

Do I work in the service of being finished? Getting it done so I can move on to the next project? It is a bit of both. When I create represents service, I can look forward to handing my work over to someone who is waiting for it. Done with a spreadsheet or a form, I am groaning and gritting my teeth as I labor to complete it. Is there a way for me to work one percent more today to see my work as not just a rush to get done but also an act of service?

My labor our labor benefits others? Even when appreciation is not giving or shown. Part of our work is for compensation. Part of our work can be for acknowledgment and appreciation, but don’t ignore that our work is also in others’ service. When we don’t have the compensation we deserve or aren’t appreciated, we can still draw strength to persevere from the generosity that we show daily when we show up to do our work.

Then tension between rest and work.

One thing I am proud of is perfect attendance. I had perfect attendance from 3rd grade to 8th. My reward was Chicago White Sox tickets. I wasn’t a White Sox fan at all. I enjoyed the game of baseball, so I would go to the games. The prize didn’t motivate, I wasn’t working for the tickets. I was just driven to have perfect attendance.

As an adult, I don’t miss work very often. I enjoy watching my vacation, and six hours accumulate just because. I go to work sick because that is what you do until COVID. Now we have temperature checks and health screenings, and we need to stay away if we are sick.

I value my own performance over my healing. As a society, how do we view healing or taken time off to heal?

Without running a full research report, I have found myself looking more at those who push through the pain and hurt and continue anyway. I admire Michael Jordan for playing with food poisoning and other athletes for playing hurt. In the face of tragedy, I applaud and initiate those who are back at it quickly.

What about healing? What about rest? We don’t give Oscars or Golden Globes for healing and rest. We don’t give certificates for taking care of ourselves. We look at sleeping as lazy. The lack of cultural value assigned to healing, rest, or peace doesn’t negate the need for it.

Society brings us grief, suffering, stress, and anxiety. Work is one way to process it, Serving is another way to process it as well. What if those don’t work and you find yourself still tired, exhausted, or worn out. It may be time to consider rest, peace, and healing.
I need to examine my relationship with rest and my desire for constant movement. The tension exists. I need both. I believe I have favored one over the other.

The Process

Exposure to information is how I begin most days. I can even think back to my elementary school days, rolling out of bed and turning on the TV to watch cartoons before I went to school. In High School and Jr High, I recall turning on NBC news in the morning to watch a short sports recap done by Jimmy Cefalo, a former NFL Wide Receiver. On A Sunday night, I would watch George Micheal’s sports machine, no not the singer George Micheal, but the host of a sports show.

The neat thing is that I can find these on YouTube. My childhood has memories of TV shows that I watched, information that I gathered, processed, and went off to the day to discuss with others, and at the same time had more information sent back to me in school that, in turn, it was my job to process, along the way you develop friendships. Poof, suddenly you are about to turn 50.

The days start a bit differently now. I roll out of bed, meditate, then do s short cardio workout, read the Bible and another spiritual book, and keep a writing journal. It is on to the blog post for the morning, then editing my book. I will get up to make coffee. I am also listening to Jazz music because I want to have my mind prepared to play my saxophone later in the day.

Along the way, there are services to others through my work at a non-profit, spending time with my wife, son, and a zoom call with friends.

All of this is external. What I show to the world, what goes on internally, is what I and most of us, I believe, have to deal with as well daily. What does your inner life look like to you? You are the only one who can see it. How are you taking care of it? What do you expose it to? Your inner life can be your best friend or your worst enemy on most given days. It is up to us to work to be able to deal with it.
In March, I am making attempts to limit my exposure to information in the morning, calling it creating and intentional, conscious consumption. No email newsletters, No alerts until after I have published a blog post and edited my novel.

Rinse Repeat

Sports and Soap Operas. I recall watching them with my grandmother. I would lay on the floor in her living room, and All My Children moved onto One Life to Live and the day finished with General Hospital.

As a child, I attached to General Hospital, watched it in college, watched it as an adult. When we had a VCR, I would tape episodes, and when I had an old school TIVO, I would TIVO the episodes. I wonder if Soaps will arrive on a streaming platform?

They have forty years of SNL on Peacock. Streaming platforms are a classroom if you take the time to see them as one. I have the chance to look at the story and how stories were put together to gather as many eyes as possible to sell ads.

The truth is, what do we remember? People don’t remember the ads. People remember the art. Think of Good Times; most African American families will tell you the iconic scene where Florida yelled “Damn, Damn, Damn”, after she dropped the bowl after James’s funeral.

The ads bring the money, and the art brings the audience. Rinse, Repeat. Eyes, products to consume. Rinse, Repeat. What do I do? I attempt to create each day and share what I create.

The classrooms for creativity exist all around us. Today is a good day to create, and tomorrow will be as well. Create something today. See yourself as a learner, and see yourself as a creator.

The month of Nisan in Hebrew is the equivalent to our month of March. I discovered that this morning when I was reading the book of Nehemiah; the book begins in the Hebrew month of Kislev when Nehemiah hears from his brothers and the exiles, he responds with mourning, prayer, and fasting. I paused and took that in.

I have read through the book of Nehemiah many times. I tend to focus on his boldness in asking the king for materials. His building of the wall, resisting the opposition, and of course, tearing out the hair of those who were rebellious.

The book started with a man who responded to the troubles of others by pausing. Stopping to mourn, pray, and fast for others.

It has been a year of loss for many people. I don’t believe we are called to blame. I don’t believe we are called to lash out at others. If you are angry or sad, consider taking the time to pause, mourn, and pray. The anger represents a loss. A collective loss we all are experiencing. Take the time to pause today.

I get angry too. I get angry at the hurt people to cause to others and still proclaim the love of God. I am angry at those who use charity work to conceal financial schemes to prosper themselves. I console myself with this thought. The evil that others do hiding behind good works. They will be exposed and brought to justice either in this life or the next, but as for me and those I love. We are free to set a different example. You can do that too. What example do you want to set? What is broken in you that needs healing? You find it by pausing to pray, fast, and mourn.